8 Questions You Should Ask While Editing Your First Draft

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Photograph by Def Leppard)

Crap, I’m turning into Buzzfeed.

Well, be that as it may, I’m learning a lot from my second draft of my current writing project. I’ve done half-assed second drafts many times before without giving real consideration to what I want to accomplish – mostly vague things like “I want to make the writing more tight” or “I want to add in character development for Elmo” or something like that.

A good starter rule for writing books – especially if you’ve never written a good book before – is to have a good roadmap. If you outline the book really well before you start draft 1, you’re so much more likely to finish the whole thing instead of losing momentum halfway through. And if you outline your goals for your rewrite in draft 2, you’ll be a lot more likely to actually accomplish them.

Because who loves pointless rewrites, am I re-right?

(I’ll show myself out.)

Here are the questions I think make for a great second-draft editing process:

  1. Is my book of an appropriate length? Related, is the pacing good? The answers to these questions can be gained from using an alpha reader early in the process (I recommend The Adorer or The Writer for your alpha reader). If someone can’t put your book down, you’re in a good place. If they can, why? What parts of the story are the hold-up for them?
  2. Are the concepts I need to be clear, clear? I usually give my alpha readers a pseudo-quiz at the end of reading a project of mine, including things like “how does the magic system work” or “what was the meaning of this moment”. Even if you’re not doing fantasy, you still want to make sure that the important concepts are understood by your reader – I’m all for interpretation of literature, but not if they’re actually interpreting the events of the novel wrong.
  3. How good are my characters? This is oh so damn crucial for practically any genre. I’m noticing as I’m writing this project that more and more of my friends and family who don’t like fantasy as a genre are interested in this book. (Okay, it’s mainly just my mom.) When I asked her why she was more interested in this book, she said that the writing was better than previous things I’ve wrote, but also that the characters were better and more relatable. No matter what your genre is, if you don’t have good characters, your readers are not going to want to share their struggles.
  4. Do I have enough/too much __________? The blank here can be filled in by a number of things – character development and arcs, plot development, descriptions, action, symbolism that contributes to your larger theme or themes. Establishing balance between a plethora of different elements in your book will make it so that it feels like everything is happening at once, in a pleasant (not overwhelming) way.
  5. Is this scene/chapter necessary to the book? Should it be occurring right now? Should it be occurring from this character’s perspective? Is there anything that should be altered or taken out from this scene? If I’m being completely honest, most of my second draft is scene editing, deleting, and relocation. I now take every chapter and examine it to see first off whether it even needs to be there, and if so, when/where/from whose perspective it should actually be. DO NOT LIMIT YOURSELF JUST BECAUSE YOU REALLY LIKE A SCENE. If it needs to go, it needs to go.
  6. How can I move things more quickly/be more concise? This is one I’m just learning to do now. A lot of times, it seems like each of my first-draft scenes is focusing on one particular element – a single dialogue that reveals character, or a moment of plot development. I’m learning how to take these multiple scenes, cross out as many as possible, and recombine those elements into a single scene which accomplishes all of those things simultaneously. It makes for great, tight writing as well as a story your readers won’t be able to put down.
  7. Do we have continuity across the work? This one is important because oftentimes you start off with an idea of what things are, or what they should be, and then your damn deviant characters run off with the story and take it down a new path. That’s fine – wonderful, even – but in your second draft, you need to keep an eye out for early moments or details that don’t make sense with where you know your story is going.
  8. What did my alphas tell me? This might be one of the most important questions you can ask on your second draft. When you gave those lucky one or two people your first draft to read, what did they say? What should you change? Now, in case you haven’t been reading this blog for very long, I’m going to say it again, in bold and caps so you know it’s important: LISTEN OPENLY TO EVERYONE’S OPINIONS, AND THEN DO WHAT YOU WANT. You need to hear what every alpha reader is saying to you, but many of them will be directly contradicting one another. They are all opinions, and they are all important, but in the end, the writing is yours. Be neither wishy-washy based on the opinions of your public, nor rigid in your inability to change your “perfect” first draft. Be like… jello. Flop with the punches and send ’em jiggling right back when you don’t want ’em.

That’s all I’ve got for you. Good luck, and happy editing!

Yours, effervescently,

-R.R. Buck

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